As a long-term expat, people always ask me “why?”: “why did you leave the United States?”, “why did you move to the Czech Republic?”, “why did you move to Argentina?”, “why do you study so many languages?”, “why don’t you want to return to the United States?”.
Now, on my 10th anniversary of being an expat, I feel very fortunate to finally be able to answer those questions. The answer is simple, yet complicated: I am an existential migrant, and always have been.
When you live abroad, you inevitably end up dating and having relationships with people from other cultures, which comes naturally to the existential migrant since they are xenophiles that are inherently more attracted to what is “different” and “unfamiliar” anyway.
However, although many existential migrants actively seek out foreign partners, this decision can bring on a whole new set of problems and challenges….as if dating and relationships weren’t hard enough! Not only do you have to get to know each other and integrate your unique personalities like any other couple, you have to do this while trying to transcend linguistic and cultural barriers. On the other hand, these differences can also be the main driving force behind cross-cultural relationships that do work. Meaning, what can tear you apart can also keep you together.
Based on my experience and that of other expats, I’m breaking down cross-cultural dating by examining a few of the stand-out influential factors affecting these connections.
One of the best explanations right now as to why Americans or other expats decide to live abroad is the theory of “Existential Migration” (Greg Madison, 2006). Unlike economic migration, simple wanderlust, exile, or variations of forced migration, existential migration (based partly on Heidegger’s alternative understandings of ‘home’ and ‘belonging’, and the concept of ‘home as interaction’ rather than ‘home as place’) is seen as a chosen attempt to express something fundamental about one’s own existence by moving abroad and becoming a foreigner.
“Rather than migrating in search of employment, career advancement, or overall improved economic conditions, these voluntary migrants are seeking greater possibilities for actualizing, exploring foreign cultures in order to assess their own identity, and ultimately grappling with issues of home and belonging in the world generally” (Existential Migration, Madison, 2006).